As­set dec­la­ra­tion law angers boffins

Bangkok Post - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS -

Anew reg­u­la­tion is­sued by the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mis­sion (NACC) that re­quires uni­ver­sity coun­cil mem­bers to de­clare their as­sets and li­a­bil­i­ties has drawn mixed re­ac­tions. The reg­u­la­tion which was is­sued un­der a new anti-cor­rup­tion law also cov­ers judges and other state of­fi­cials, their spouses and chil­dren, in­clud­ing those who are not yet of age, to de­clare their as­sets and debts to the NACC. It was pub­lished in the Royal Gazette on Nov 1 and will take ef­fect on Dec 2.

While many, es­pe­cially peo­ple in aca­demic cir­cles, wel­come the new rule, the uni­ver­sity coun­cil mem­bers made no ef­fort to hide their an­noy­ance. They claim the re­quire­ment will be an ex­ces­sive bur­den, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing pa­per work. They de­manded the NACC re­vise the reg­u­la­tion ac­cord­ingly, or there will be a protest: res­ig­na­tions en masse.

Coun­cil chair­man Suchatvee Suwan­sawat said it agreed in prin­ci­ple dur­ing a meet­ing on Nov 8 that the new as­set reg­u­la­tion should be to ap­plied to uni­ver­si­ties’ rec­tors and vice-rec­tors, but not coun­cil mem­bers whose work is aca­demic in na­ture.

He said the mem­bers in­sisted they are ex­empted be­cause they hold no ex­ec­u­tive power and have no au­thor­ity in pro­cure­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Suchatvee, who is also rec­tor of King Mongkut’s In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy Lad­kra­bang (KMITL), some uni­ver­sity coun­cil mem­bers have al­ready ten­dered their res­ig­na­tions, which could af­fect the run­ning of uni­ver­sity af­fairs.

“Even though the new rule is aimed at pro­mot­ing good gov­er­nance, it will also add too much of a bur­den on those who are re­quired to de­clare their as­sets. They will also have to de­clare the as­sets of their spouses and chil­dren,” Mr Suchatvee said in an at­tempt to jus­tify the de­mand.

It’s the same sit­u­a­tion for the Coun­cil of Ra­jab­hat and Ra­ja­mangkala Uni­ver­sity. Pre­vi­ously, there were warn­ings about ad­verse ef­fects if the new reg­u­la­tion be­comes ef­fec­tive.

They said there would be a power vac­uum in uni­ver­si­ties if coun­cil mem­bers quit their po­si­tions. Their res­ig­na­tions would af­fect quo­rums of meet­ings, which would af­fect the coun­cils’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.

It’s well known that peo­ple from the pri­vate sec­tor sit on uni­ver­sity coun­cils and they are re­luc­tant to de­clare their as­sets.

Chalerm­chai Boonyaleepan, a mem­ber of the coup-in­stalled Na­tional Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly and ex-rec­tor of Sri­nakhar­in­wirot Uni­ver­sity, voiced dis­agree­ment with the new rule. He said some “de­cent and com­pe­tent” peo­ple may find the mea­sure a turn-off and de­cide not to join the coun­cil.

The tu­mult has prompted the NACC to of­fer a com­pro­mise. On Fri­day, NACC deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ni­watchai Kasem­mongkol said the agency is gath­er­ing in­put from all con­cerned par­ties and may post­pone the en­force­ment of the new reg­u­la­tion.

The NACC has promised to con­sider the mat­ter thor­oughly.

In a bid to down­play the im­pact, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Wis­sanu Kre­angam, who was as­signed by the prime min­is­ter to take care of the is­sue, said the res­ig­na­tions had noth­ing to do with the protest.

He cited the case of Meechai Ruchu­pan, chair­man of the con­sti­tu­tional draft­ing com­mit­tee and pres­i­dent of three uni­ver­sity coun­cils who de­cided to quit his uni­ver­sity job be­cause his term is up, and can­not be ex­tended.

If he waits un­til the reg­u­la­tion takes ef­fect, Mr Meechai will have to sub­mit an as­set dec­la­ra­tion to the NACC, and he “sim­ply does not want to”, the deputy prime min­is­ter said.

“Sev­eral pres­i­dents and coun­cil mem­bers are in the same sit­u­a­tion,” Mr Wis­sanu said.

Yet the deputy prime min­is­ter ap­peared to sym­pa­thise with those who are frus­trated with the new rule, and sug­gested an easy way out of the im­passe: the NACC should sim­plify its as­set dec­la­ra­tion form and process.

More im­por­tantly, there are com­pli­ca­tions about the new rule when it is ap­plied to se­nior mem­bers of the Sangha Coun­cil who also sit on the coun­cil of Ma­hamakut and Maha Chu­la­longko­rn­ra­javidyalaya Bud­dhist uni­ver­si­ties. This is be­cause by tra­di­tion it may be deemed as in­ap­pro­pri­ate to make such a re­quire­ment to se­nior monks.

Mr Wis­sanu is right in point­ing out the need for a com­pro­mise, es­pe­cially in mak­ing the as­set dec­la­ra­tion process more sim­ple, but at the same time those who threaten to re­sign over the new rule should know such a de­ci­sion would cast them in a bad light.

Such a threat if any­thing is an over­re­ac­tion and shows a lack of ma­tu­rity and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. In par­tic­u­lar, the claims about ad­di­tional pa­per works in the as­sets dec­la­ra­tion process is un­con­vinc­ing and ridicu­lous.

Some uni­ver­sity coun­cil mem­bers have al­ready ten­dered their res­ig­na­tions.

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